Nearly 40 percent of adult U.S. citizens will stay away from the polls this coming November, but if these Americans were to vote, President Barack Obama would coast to a second term in office, according to a Suffolk University-USA TODAY nationwide survey of unregistered and unlikely voters.

Obama was the choice of 43 percent of unregistered Americans, while 23 percent said they would choose a third-party candidate over Republican Mitt Romney (14 percent). The Democratic president also pulled 43 percent of registered voters who said they are less likely to cast a ballot, while 20 percent chose Romney, and 18 percent would prefer a third-party candidate, according to the poll.

Unique survey model

The survey is an unusual sampling of people whose voices otherwise would not be heard during the 2012 election cycle.

“This is a poll of the ‘Other America,’” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “There is a huge block of Americans who are never asked their opinions because they are immediately screened out once they’ve indicated that they are not registered or unlikely to vote. It is the first poll taken this year that exclusively looks at this segment of the population.”

In 2008, the Democratic ticket of Obama and Joe Biden won about 70 million votes, while Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin secured about 60 million votes. Yet 80 million, or 38 percent, of eligible adults -- all of them U.S. citizens -- did not vote because they were either unregistered or were registered and chose not to go to the polls that day. It is estimated that the non-voter total will be even higher this November.

Why they don’t vote

Survey respondents acknowledged that politics does make a difference in their lives (58 percent), and a majority (64 percent) said they keep abreast of what’s going on in government most or some of the time – whether or not it’s an election season. However, 61 percent could not correctly name the current vice president, and 59 percent said the reason they don’t pay attention is that nothing ever gets done – that it’s a bunch of empty promises.

The reasons given for choosing not to vote varied, topped by “no time/busy” (26 percent) and “vote doesn’t count/matter” (12 percent) for those who aren’t registered. For registered voters who began the survey not intending to vote, 14 percent said they were “now thinking about it,” and 13 percent pointed out that they have the “right to vote or not to vote.”

On the whole, the respondents described themselves as moderate (34 percent), with liberals and conservatives falling fairly evenly on either side of the scale.

Less than a third (32 percent) said that the Democratic and Republican parties do a good job of representing Americans’ political views, while 53 percent said a third party or multiple parties are necessary.

Untapped votes for Obama

“This poll is a good-news bad news story for Barack Obama,” said Paleologos. “The good news is that there is a treasure chest of voters he doesn’t even have to persuade – they already like him and dislike Mitt Romney. He just needs to unlock the chest and get them out to vote. The bad news is that these people won’t vote because they feel beaten down by empty promises, a bad economy and the negativity of both parties. Obama has lost time – and the key – to open that treasure chest.”

While 52 percent saw the country as being on the wrong track, Obama was viewed favorably by 55 percent of those polled. Twenty-five percent viewed Romney favorably, compared to 51 percent who had an unfavorable opinion of him. The U.S. Congress had a 51 percent unfavorable rating.

Given a scenario where the respondent’s vote would swing a close national election, 85 percent of those who favor Obama said they would register and/or vote to clinch an election for him, while 70 percent of those who prefer Romney would do the same for the Republican candidate.

“Ironically, both the Obama and Romney campaigns want to tout likely-voter polls showing their respective candidates leading by wide margins,” said Paleologos. “But for these non-voters, this assertion has the opposite effect from what the campaigns want. If these people think you’re going to win anyway, that’s one more reason in a long list of reasons why they’ll stay home in November.”

Methodology

The nationwide survey of 800 U.S. adults was conducted July 30-Aug. 8, 2012, using live telephone interviews of landline and cell phone users. The margin of error is +/- 3.47 percent. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data will be posted on Wednesday, Aug. 15, on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, on Twitter: @DavidPaleologos.
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Suffolk University, located in historic downtown Boston, with an international campus in Madrid, is a comprehensive global institution distinguished by the teaching and the intellectual contributions of its faculty. Suffolk University offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs in more than 90 areas of study. Its mission is to provide access to excellence in higher education to students of all ages and backgrounds, with strong emphasis on diversity.